December 27, 2016 [Thomas Jewell, special to cleveland.com]
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — The city has worked out a deal with the Van Aken District developer to market the former Qua Buick property and pay off $94,000 still owed in demolition costs for the old car dealership.
RMS Investment Corp. has agreed to “front” the remaining money to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to cover demolition and site preparation costs for the 2.4-acre property at 3393 Warrensville Center Road.
After purchasing the Qua site in late 2013 for $1 million, the city was awarded $200,000 through the county’s Demolition Bond Reserve Program.
Then City Council kicked in $30,000 in May 2015 to cover the anticipated cost overruns, which actually climbed another $93,782 with unforeseen environmental cleanup and infrastructure costs.
RMS was willing to cover this cost, after reaching a tentative $750,000 deal to buy 1.9 acres of the Qua land to relocate Fresh Market across Warrensville Center Road from the now-demolished Van Aken Center.
But the Greenville, N.C.-based grocer was bought out by new ownership that announced plans to close the existing store in August and scrap any proposal for a new one.
On Dec. 19, City Council approved an amended Development & Use Agreement that will offer RMS an 18-month purchase option for the Qua property if the developer pays off the remaining demolition costs to the county.
In the meantime, the $750,000 purchase price for the land — with the city keeping the remaining half-acre swath of land along Helen Road for a residential buffer — remains on the table.
“Today, we own the (entire) property,” Mayor Earl Leiken said in response to a question from Councilman Sean Malone. “The best option to develop the property is through RMS, giving them the opportunity since the withdrawal of Fresh Market.”
And if at the end of 18 months, RMS still does not have a tenant for the Qua site, and does not request an extension, the city will reimburse RMS for the option price of $93,782, City Economic Development Director Tania Menesse explained in a Dec. 19 memo to council.
“RMS is very interested in developing the site in the next 18 months,” Menesse said. “But if this doesn’t happen, the city will simply reassume the remaining cost of the demolition. And we’ll have the opportunity to develop the property with another partner.”
Councilwoman Nancy Moore noted that the “worst case scenario” at the end of the day would be simply that the Qua site was still “ours to develop.”
Leiken remains optimistic that a tenant will be found, and hopeful that it could still be a grocery store, providing another anchor for the neighborhood in the $97.2 million mixed-use commercial, residential and business district.
“It’s important to move forward, and RMS has agreed to step in,” Menesse said, pointing out that it would have always been the city’s responsibility to demolish the existing structures to prepare the site for development.
The intent of purchasing the Qua site was to protect the property until the $18.5 million road reconfiguration was completed and the first phase of the Van Aken District commenced.
Council passed the agreement as emergency legislation to pay the county for the remainder of the demolition costs.
“The county’s demolition assistance of $200,000 was a tremendous opportunity to defray two-thirds of the cost,” Menesse added.